Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Turns 50

It was fifty years ago today, on Saturday, September 19 1970, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted on CBS. It would go onto become one of the most successful shows of the Seventies and has persisted in syndication ever since it ended its run in 1977. It won  29 Emmy Awards, a record that was not broken until Fraser took its 30th Emmy in 2002. It was nominated many more times.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), a single woman who, after a broken engagement, moved to Minneapolis. Initially applying for a secretarial position at TV station WJM, she instead becomes the associate producer of the station's six o'clock news. Her boss was the somewhat grumpy, but soft hearted news director Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner). Working with her was head news writer Murray Slaughter (played by Gavin MacLeod), who was Mary's closest friend at work and known for his humorous quips. The anchorman on WJM's six o'clock news was the inept Ted Baxter (played by Ted Knight), who was known for his many on-air errors. Mary's best friend was her neighbour Rhoda Morgenstern (played by Valerie Harper), who was single yet sardonic and had a sense of humour about her love life. Her landlady was Phyllis Lindstrom (played by Cloris Leachman, who was a bit snobbish and could be arrogant.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. James L. Brooks had written for such shows as My Mother the Car That Girl, The Andy Griffith Show, and My Three Sons, and had created the show Room 222.  Allan Burns had written for Jay Ward's animated shows, and with Chris Hayward he had created The Munsters and My Mother the Car. With Chris Hayward he would later serve as a story editor on the sitcom He & She, and Get Smart.

As originally conceived, Mary Richards would have been a divorcee starting a new life. This met with disapproval from CBS, their research department declaring that American audiences would not tolerate a divorced lead character. The network's objection to Mary Richards being divorced was made worse by the fact that with the casting of Mary Tyler Moore CBS was worried that viewers might confuse Mary Richards with Mary Tyler Moore's earlier character of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and think that Laura had divorced Rob Petrie. It was then that it was decided that Mary Richards would be a woman making a new life following a broken engagement. Initially Mary Richards was to have been the assistant to a gossip columnist loosely based on Joyce Haber, then the gossip columnist for The Los Angeles Times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns later reworked this so that Mary worked in a newsroom in Minneapolis.

Among the most famous aspects of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is its theme song, "Love is All Around." The song was written and performed by Sonny Curtis, who had been one of The Crickets, and had written The Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back" and The Crickets' "I Fought the Law" (later covered by The Bobby Fuller Four). In the first season the lyrics reflected a woman just starting a new life. The lyrics changed with the second season to better reflect the fact that Mary had become established in her new life.

CBS gave a commitment to The Mary Tyler Moore Show without ordering a pilot episode. That did not mean it would be smooth sailing for the show.  While The Mary Tyler Moore Show would become regarded as a classic, it did not fare well when a live version of the show was performed in front of a test audience. They did not like the fact that Mary was over 30 and still single. The audiences disliked Rhoda and thought Phyllis was abrasive. They didn't care for Lou Grant either. Unfortunately, The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared only a little better with further test screenings.  If it seems unusual that The Mary Tyler Moore Show fared poorly with a test audience, consider the fact that other classic shows also fared poorly with test audiences. Batman, The Monkees, and Seinfeld all received disastrous ratings from test audiences.

Fortunately, Grant Tinker, then Mary Tyler Moore's husband and head of her production company MTM Enterprises, was able to persuade CBS vice president in charge of programming, Michael Dann, to still give the show a chance. Initially, Mr. Dann placed the show on Tuesday nights, where it would be sandwiched in between The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw. Furthermore, CBS only ordered thirteen episodes. Fortunately for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Michael Dann would leave CBS for the Children's Television Workshop. Fred Silverman was then promoted to vice president in charge of programming. With then CBS President Robert Wood, Fred Silverman was one of the architects of what became known as the Rural Purge, in which CBS cancelled nearly all of its show with rural appeal. With its urban setting, The Mary Tyler Moore Show then became much more attractive to CBS.

Fred Silverman watched the pilot episode as well as rough cuts of the show's second and third episodes. He really liked what he saw. Realizing that it was scheduled in a poor time slot, Mr. Silverman moved Green Acres from its Saturday night time slot to the Wednesday night time slot in which The Mary Tyler Moore Show was originally scheduled, and then placed The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night. The Mary Tyler Moore was sandwiched between two top rated shows, My Three Sons (which ranked no. 19 for the year) and Mannix (ranked no. 17 for the year). It should come as no surprise, then, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a success. It ranked no. 22 for the season.

Throughout its seven seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would have very little in the way of changes in its cast. Valerie Harper left the show following its fourth season when Rhoda received her own spin-off show. Despite this, she would continue to make guest appearances as Rhoda until The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its run. Cloris Leachman left the show after is fifth season after Phyllis received her own spin-off. She would make guest appearances in the seventh season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In the show's third season Georgia Engel was added as Ted Baxter's scatterbrained girlfriend Georgette. Ted and Georgette would eventually marry. In the fourth season Betty White was added to the cast as Sue Ann Nivens, the host of the WJM show The Happy Homemaker. Although on The Happy Homemaker Sue Ann was relentlessly upbeat and perky, in real life she tended to be sardonic, competitive, and very man hungry.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show proved to be very successful. From its second to fourth seasons it ranked in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings for each year. In its fifth season it ranked at no. 11 and in its sixth season at no. 19. In its final season it still came in at a respectable no. 39 in the Nielsen ratings for the year.

Given it success, it should come as no surprised that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not cancelled, but simply ended production. After seven seasons, Mary Tyler Moore found the show was no longer as challenging as it once was and had decided to move onto other things. Since The Mary Tyler Moore Show was ended on its producers' terms rather than being cancelled by the network, it was able to have something that was very rare in 1977, a series finale. In the appropriately titled "The Last Show," WJM's station manager decided to fire everyone on the six o'clock news except for the one person responsible for its low ratings, anchorman Ted Knight. It would become regarded as one of the greatest series finales of all time.

The success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show would result in three spin offs. Rhoda saw Rhoda Morgenstern return to New York City. Debuting in 1974, it ran for five seasons. Phyllis saw Phyllis and her daughter move to San Francisco following the death of her husband. It proved less successful than Rhoda, running only two seasons. Following the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant was spun off into his own show, Lou Grant. In the show Lou had become the city editor for The Los Angeles Tribune after he had been fired from WJM. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis had all been sitcoms, Lou Grant was a drama. It ran for five seasons.

CBS would produce two retrospectives of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Special aired in 1971 and The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion aired in 2002. Of course, the show has persisted in syndication ever since it left the air and is widely available on streaming services.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show would prove to be a historic show. Of course, there had been shows centred on single women before. Both Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show as single women, although they almost entirely centred on her characters' professional lives. That Girl starred Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, a single woman who moves from her hometown to her New York City. Unlike Mary Richards, however, was engaged throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show centred on both Mary's career and her private life, and she remained unattached throughout the show's run. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was then largely responsible for changing the depiction of women on television.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also historic as the first show produced by MTM Enterprises. MTM Enterprises would become one of the most successful independent television production companies in the Seventies and early Eighties. It would produce such classic shows as The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, and St. Elsewhere.

Fifty years after its debut, The Mary Tyler Moore Show still has an impact.  Every sitcoms that featuring sharp dialogue and well defined characters largely owe something to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show marked a shift from the sometimes gimmicky sitcoms of the Sixties to a more sophisticated form of character driven comedy still seen today. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show did not deal with issues the way such "relevant" sitcoms as All in the Family did, it did address subjects rarely, if ever, addressed in sitcoms before. The show featured what might have been the first ever positive portrayal of a homosexual ("My Brother's Keeper") and even used death as a source of humour ("Chuckles Bites the Dust"). The gap between men and women's salaries and the birth control pill were among the subjects almost never mentioned on sitcoms prior to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Along with He & She a few years before it, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would point the way for sitcoms for years to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Why I Don't Like the New Blogger Interface

In  April 1985 Coca-Cola Company introduced a reformulation of Coca-Cola that would become known as "New Coke." There had been no demand for Coca-Cola to do away with the old formula, so it should come as no surprise that public outrage was swift and immediate. By July 1985 Coca-Cola announced the return of the old formula, now called Coca-Cola Classic. As to New Coke, it struggled in the soda market until Coca-Cola Company finally discontinued it in 2002.

Right now Blogger has found itself in a "New Coke" situation. It was in May 2020 that Blogger announced "a  better Blogger experience on the web." As it turns out, reaction to the new interface has largely been negative. Many long-time bloggers noticed glitches in the new interface, from posting images to how it dealt with html. Most absolutely hate the way the new interface looks and functions. Despite this, it was in the past few days that Blogger replaced the old interface (termed "Legacy Blogger") with New Blogger. To say bloggers are not happy is a bit of understatement.

As someone who has operated a blog on Blogger for 16 years, I number among the bloggers unhappy with the new interface. To begin with, there was simply no demand for it. Legacy Blogger was not perfect, but it was functional and easy to use. While many of the glitches that plagued New Blogger upon its introduction have since been fixed, it is still largely inferior to Legacy Blogger, which makes Blogger's choice to replace Legacy Blogger both puzzling and infuriating.

Indeed, my biggest objection to New Blogger is everything is just too darn big. This is especially true of the post list, where not only is the font much too large, but Blogger insists on displaying an image with every single post. On Legacy Blogger I could see up to nine posts in the list on my screen. On New Blogger that number is down to five. With regards to the Comments section, depending on the length of the comments, I could see anywhere from eight to ten comments on Legacy Blogger. I can only see four to five comments on New Blogger. Throughout New Blogger the fonts are too large, meaning items take up too much space on the screen. This is complicated by New Blogger's insistence on using images. Sadly, there is no way on New Blogger to reduce the font size of the interface or hide images.

Another problem with New Blogger is its reliance on drop down menus. For instance, when one was making a post on Legacy Blogger, all they had to do to switch to HTML is click the HTML button. On New Blogger the only one can switch to HTML is by clicking on the Compose icon to bring down a drop down menu. Another example is the Comments page. On Legacy Blogger to access comments for moderation, one just clicked on Awaiting Moderation in the menu to the left. On New Blogger one must click on (you guessed it) a drop down menu. This is also true of the Stats page. On Legacy Blogger one simply clicked on Now, Day, Week, or All time for the time period of stats one wanted to view. On New Blogger one has to use a drop down menu to do this.

Of course, the Stats page on New Blogger is incredibly inferior to the Stats page on Legacy Blogger as it is. On Legacy Blogger everything is right there on one screen. Do you want to look at your Stats for Posts for the week? Just click on See More on Posts. Want to look at them for the Day? Just click on Day, then click on See More on Posts. With New Blogger one must scroll down an incredibly large graph of the stats for one's latest post and then an incredibly large graph of the stats for one's blog for the past seven days before he or she even reaches the stats for posts. I rarely look at the stats for my latest post or the overall stats for A Shroud of Thoughts for the past week, but I regularly check the daily stats for individual posts. The New Blogger Stats page is then incredibly annoying to me.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with New Blogger aside from the fact that everything is so darn big is that it is not nearly as intuitive as Legacy Blogger. A perfect example of this is the New Comments page. It is not immediately obvious that one has to click a down menu to access Comments Awaiting Moderation. On the list of posts, it is not immediately obvious that one can hover over a post in order to edit, view, or delete it.

All of this makes me wonder why Blogger thought it was necessary to replace Legacy Blogger and why they somehow think New Blogger is an improvement. From their original blog post announcing New Blogger in May, it would seem that they think that New Blogger is easier to use on mobile devices. That may well be the case, but in making it easier to use on mobile devices, they have made it harder to use on desktops. I think this is a big mistake, as I know of no blogger who uses Blogger who makes their posts from a phone or a tablet. Every single one of us uses a desktop or laptop computer. Let's face it, trying to make a post from one's smart phone would literally take forever. My typing speed on a desktop keyboard is 180 words per minute. My texting speed on a phone is much, much less.

Like Coca-Cola Company before it, I am hoping that Blogger realizes that they have made a mistake and restore Legacy Blogger. They could keep New Blogger available for anyone who actually like it. As it is they have simply irritated long time users with something that they did not want and that is actually inferior to what we had all these years.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Kevin Dobson Passes On

Kevin Dobson, who played Detective Crocker on Kojak and Mack MacKenzie on Knots Landing, died on September 6 2020 at the age of 77.

Kevin Dobson was born on March 18 1943 in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York. Before beginning his acting career, he worked as a trainman, brakeman, and conductor for the Long Island Rail Road. He also served in the United States Army.

Kevin Dobson made his acting debut in a guest appearance on the soap opera The Doctors in 1969. He would make several more guest appearances on the show in small roles until 1971. In the Seventies he guest starred on the shows The Mod Squad, The Rookies, Emergency!, Ironside, Cannon, Police Story, Captain Kangaroo, Greatest, and Heroes of the Bible. In 1973 he began playing Detective Crocker on Kojak, a role he played for the show's entire run. He appeared in the movies Klute (1971) and Midway (1978).

In the Eighties he starred on the short lived show Shannon and the TV show Knots Landing. He guest starred on the shows CBS Afternoon Playhouse and Tales of the Unexpected. He reprised his role as Crocker in the television reunion movie Kojak: It's Always Something. He appeared in the movie All Night Long (1981).

In the Nineties Mr. Dobson continued to appear on Knot's Landing. He played Detective Leo McCarthy on the syndicated show F/X: The Series. He guest starred on Burke's Law, Touched by an Angel, The Commish, Early Edition, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Nash Bridges. He appeared in the movie Restraining Order (1999).

In the Naughts Kevin Dobson had recurring roles on the soap operas One Life to Live and The Bold and the Beautiful. He guest starred on the show Cold Case. He appeared in the movies She's No Angel (2002), Crash Landing (2005), 1408 (2007), and April Moon. In the Teens he had a recurring role on House of Lies. He guest starred on the series Hawaii Five-0 and Anger Management. He appeared in the movies The Representative (2011) and Dark Power (2013).

Kevin Dobson was always a reliable presence on television. It should be little wonder that he had recurring roles on so many television shows, as he consistently gave good performances. He was believable as Detective Crocker on Kojak and as prosecutor Mack Mackenzie on Knots Landing. He played a variety of roles throughout his career, including famed detective Mike Hammer in the television movie Margin for Murder. He was an actor of considerable talent who consistently gave good performances.